Tag Archives: Conservation

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?


Protecting common species more important than saving endangered ones, new research suggests

Atlantic Cod, the importance of the ordinary animal

The once common Atlantic cod

In wildlife conservation, people tend to pay closer attention to the disappearing creatures. There is a sense of urgency, and rightfully so, to save the few, but new research indicates that it is the common things that need protecting. For if they go, all the ways that they influence the nature of the world will be so disturbed that even the rare will have nowhere left to go. Let’s face it. If things get so bad that even common critters aren’t around anymore, we’re in deep doo-doo.

The research, led by Kerstin Johannesson with the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, looked specifically at marine systems. Johannesson found that a vast number of species in the oceans are so rare, it’s difficult to find even  a few individuals anymore. “Committing most resources to saving individual species is not just an expensive business – it would also risk destroying the foundation for ecosystems,” states a press release on the study.

Common species, found Johannesson, create habitat for other species, so by protecting them, it’s possible to protect the rare animals as well.  Johannesson uses the once common cod in the fjords of the Bohuslän coast as an example of this phenomenon. Their numbers have virtually disappeared.

“Without the big predatory fish, the sea-grass meadows become clogged, with the result that the shallow bays no longer act as larders and nurseries for inshore fish,” Johannesson stated in a press release.

I don’t know if Johannesson’s conservation strategy is the right way to go, moreso than concentrating on endangered species, but who’s to say that we shouldn’t really implement both tactics? Regardless, I have no doubt that we need to understand better the value of the common creatures. After all preventative conservation, sure does sound a heck of a lot smarter and potentially easier than waiting to clean up a mess.

What are your thoughts?

Lead Researcher:

Kerstin Johannesson of the University of Gothenburg


Kerstin Johannesson, Kerstin.Johannesson@marecol.gu.se, 465-266-8611

CAT in WATER Kickstarter Launch!

Support the Kickstarter project to document them in the wild  here.

The fishing cat is up and running! We have 90 days to raise the first round of funds for the CAT in WATER expedition. Check out our Kickstarter project and watch the short video. You can also learn about all the paybacks in store for our supporters. Who wouldn’t want a care package from Thailand and the knowledge they are helping a gorgeous, wild animal in need?

Nature Needs Half

Finally, an idea to show the progress of conservation. My first contribution to Nature Needs Half goes live. Watch the trailer and find out how Nature Needs Half could apply to your home.We can reach the goal, one piece at a time.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Learn more at natureneedshalf.org.


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Sagebrush Ecosystem: Rising from an ancient sea

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Sagebrush country, it kind of makes you itchy and scratchy just looking at it. This is a place where every footstep crackles, and there are no forests to shelter under. You’d never realize that where you’re standing used to lie at the bottom of the ocean.

Look to your feet, the rocks and soil, and you’ll quickly see otherwise. Rocks crumble away revealing more fossil than straight rock. The remains of the ancients run thick through this ground, giving rise to a new ecosystem remarkable for its hardiness and coveted for its carbon.

Here, the faint lemony fragrance of the sage floats in on the breeze. Antelope bolt for the hills, and the  “drip-thoink” calls of male sage grouse echo across the dawn as they try to win the hearts, or at least  reproductive rights, of their ladies.

Nearby Craig, Colo., boasts the largest coal-fired power plant in the state with a 1,304 megawatt capacity. Open pit coal mines and natural gas development serve as a backdrop to rolling hay fields and seemingly endless expanses of sagebrush.

The sagebrush is not endless however. It’s shrinking faster than people know it exists. So here’s my attempt to give it some props. Even if it’s difficult to stand before the sagebrush sea in awe like you would Yosemite and Yellowstone, you can’t help but respect the wilderness that insists on living there.

This isn’t your fluffy, lush Walden Pond wilderness. This is your crawl from a dried up seabed, live where others can’t sort of wild. You fall asleep to shorts and t-shirt kind of weather and wake to 50mph winds and blizzard kind of havoc. But if you have the guts to stop your car and venture out for awhile, you’ll understand that this place fights for every moment of its existence, and it kicks ass.

Fun book blog highlights children’s books worth an Earth Day shout out

Watch book illustrations come to life with this ‘making of’ video for Red Nose Studio.

There’s no shortage of enviro-books for grown-ups, and now kids can start their eco-stewardship early with this healthy crop of stories, carefully selected and reviewed by former Rocky Mountain News book reviewer Jenny Miller. “Where The Best Books Are” doesn’t point to your typical, “let’s take a walk in the pretty woods,” inspired children’s stories. Books that made the shelf boil down complex environmental issues – sometimes inspired by true events — into a format kids can enjoy and absorb.

Take for instance the book, Here Comes the Garbage Barge, based on the 1987 effort of Long Island to offload more than 3,000 tons of garbage onto somebody else. There’s armed resistance, lawsuits and we can’t forget the unlucky, trash-toting sea captain who has to deal with the smell. Somehow the author brings all these elements into a children’s book, illustrated with cool claymation photos. You can even watch a video about how the Red Nose Studio artist made the images.

Who needs dragons when there are real life eco-adventure stories waiting out there?

So check out full reviews and more goodies on the “Where The Best Books Are” blog. Along with the review, Miller provides pricing, age ranges and some fun multimedia along the way. Who knows, you might find being a grown-up won’t stop you from wanting to read more than a few of these titles.

  1. Here Comes the Garbage Barge
  2. Bag in the Wind
  3. How the World Works
  4. The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge
  5. The Kids’ Solar Energy Book Even Grown-ups Can Understand
  6. 365 Penguins
  7. We Planted a Tree
  8. Girls Gone Green
  9. 31 Ways to Change the World
  10. The Solar Car Book (you actually get to build a little solar-powered toy car

Elephants in the Oilfields

Forest elephants in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. (Photo/Thomas Breuer)

I never thought I’d say this, but could oil and gas development actually be good for wildlife?

If you’re an African forest elephant hanging out in the oilfields of Gabon, the answer looks to be a resounding yes. In fact, new research shows elephants might actually prefer living in active oil and gas fields over the surrounding national parks. So what do the elephants know that we don’t? The new study by the Smithsonian Institute’s Center for Conservation, Education and Sustainability takes a look at this unusual relationship.

Gabon is home to a lot of elephants, about 11,000. The central African country also boasts an incredible level of biodiversity with more than 353 species of plants and 75 species of amphibians in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas (a network of national parks covering slightly less area than the state of Connecticut) alone. But Gabon is also rich in natural resources, including petroleum, and there are several active energy fields operating in the region, two of which, Rabi and the Gamba-Ivinga, sit between national parks in the Gamba complex.

Usually energy development of this kind conjures images of destroyed environments and absent wildlife. But in Gabon, oil and gas concessions seem to serve as a type of wildlife haven, at least for the elephants, and the study indicates that these fields could also help out the forest’s other inhabitants, including primates.

Past research shows that roads, abandoned villages and croplands likely create new and approved dining spots for elephants. But a land with lots of roads often means a land with lots of hunters, so those dining spots often go untouched by the elephants. As nature would have it, take away the hunters, and the story begins to sound a bit different.

Joseph Kolowski, a researcher with Smithsonian Institute’s and the National Zoo’s Center for Conservation, Education and Sustainability, along with a team that includes six other researchers from the center, the Wildlife Conservation Society and various universities decided to track the movements of elephants in the Gabon region to find out what was going on with elephants in the oilfields.

They fitted four elephants, two each in the Rabi and the Gamba-Ivinga oilfields, with GPS telemetry collars. Researchers tracked and correlated location points of elephants with roadways and other disturbed areas during a 20-month period in 2004 and 2005. They also looked at the movements of other elephants in the region outside the oilfields. What they found was nothing short of astounding.

Overall, the elephants collared in the oilfields showed a clear preference for staying within the boundaries of the concessions. They walked shorter home ranges, and liked to hang out near roadways. One female in particular never strayed more than 2.6 km from a road and her home-base centered on the most active area of the Rabi oilfield. It’s the first study, according to the researchers, to show elephants residing almost exclusively within an oilfield. In Rabi, for example, the two elephants tagged there, stayed within the concession 86 and 98 percent of the time.

“Why?” you might ask. True, Rabi is one of the countries largest and most active oilfields, but it’s also one of the best protected. More than 90 percent of the field’s forest remains intact. The oilfield limits road access to industry personnel and rigorously enforces a zero-hunting policy. The fact that there aren’t many people around also helps. In Gamba-Ivinga, the oilfields also limit road access and hunting, but not as strictly as in Rabi, and the oilfield also exists near a village of 9,000 people, many of which are employed by the industry.

Nevertheless, both oilfields provided new foraging opportunities and protection for the forest elephants in this study, showing that not all oilfields are bad, and that managed well, they may even offer benefits not available in the national parks. If only there weren’t more stories like this one associated with mass-scale fossil fuel extraction.

This study is available online early in the African Journal of Ecology.

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